Bully was a game that had completely gone under my radar, but thankfully one man changed that. You are probably familiar with Jack Thompson’s crusade against Bully, as it has been in the media. I suppose I owe him my thanks, because if it wasn’t for him I would not have purchased this game. To address some concerns, this game does contain some of the wit and attitude that is present in GTA. However, it’s not on an adult level, it’s on a more “teenager” level. There could be some content that isn’t suitable for younger players, and contains violence obviously. It’s a lot more tame than GTA, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good gift for an 10 year old.
Bully is available only on the Playstation 2. Sadly, the Playstation 2 is an aging platform with some limitations. Still, putting it side by side Bully is a fantastic looking PS2 game with an incredible amount of detail. Even more incredible is the size of the game, which while not as big as a GTA game, is massive. It’s not as large as GTA, it has far more detail and everything is packed into a smaller area. There is a few technical issues, mainly in relation to the framerate, that do pop up every now and then. It’s nothing to get too concerned about, as it isn’t a frequent problem you’ll be running into.
Bully really stands out when it comes to the more artistic values. Animations are smooth, but also exaggerated and witty on occasions. The style of the different “factions” is over-the-top and again contain some wit. The school buildings feel big, but old and worn. Once you get into town, things still feel in place and appropriate. The quality of the visuals is top notch, especially when you realize it’s a PS2 game.
The music is a good mix with the game. This is becoming more and more rare, but the music actually makes the game better. The tunes just seem to fit, no matter what the situation. Such as when the tempo quickly escalates when a prefect catches you breaking a rule, and you try to make your dashing escape. But even just the normal music fits the mood of the game just so right.
As for general sound effects, they’re spot on. The ringing of the class bell, the students talking to each other at lockers, or the scream of school girls when you launch a stink bomb just to name a few. It’s all there, and it all has it’s sort of exaggerated style that make it feel even more like a school than most schools are. Voice acting is also superb, which has really come to be expected in Rockstar games. Still, it’s really nice to play a game without so much as a hiccup in any of the sounds. It really helps with the immersion of the game and creates a better experience while playing.
The controls are pretty familiar if you have played a GTA game, yet they also feel a bit tighter. Movement is a bit more precise, and you get a skateboard fairly early on which allows for speedy transport. Once the game opens up a bit more, you can also get a bicycle for yourself to speed around larger distances faster. The controls also come into play in all the different “classes” the school offers, which are mainly mini-games based on timing and reflex of the controls. The controls for navigating and mini-games are both straight forward and solid.
The fighting system does not rely so much on ranged attacks, like GTA has done previously. Instead it focuses on fist fighting. When fighting you can grab, punch, and tackle your opponent. You can also locate melee weapons, like a baseball bat or a wooden board, for an extra dose of pain. Though the juice of the combat system is getting up close and dirty, ranged attacks are still a core part of the game. You can use your slingshot to deal some damage, but the big damage comes later on as you unlock firecrackers, a spud cannon, and more. Ranged combat is pretty weak when you compare it to melee combat, but nothing is wrong with it.
You play as Jimmy Hopkins, a rough kid who has been failing from school to school. He is finally left at Bullsworth Academy, a school with a reputation of teaching students their place. Refusing to be bullied and teased by both his peers and the corrupt school authority, Jimmy takes things into his own hands. Your goal is to change this school for the better, by making alliances with each of the different school factions. In the end, the story is pretty good. Though sometimes you seem to a bit too morally confused. You’ll do one thing, then do the very next mission reversing what you just did the last mission. However, the missions are varied, and the story is pretty compelling while being very light at the same time. It’s a great combination of wit and light comedy in a somewhat surreal real-life environment.
There is a lot to do beyond following the story. You’ve got a large school with plenty of other buildings arranged in the schoolyard. There’s plenty to do in the school, whether you’re betting on mini-games for cash, shooting some hoops, skating around the campus, or picking lockers. Once the school opens up and you get access to the town, you can do even more activities. You get to do some part time work for cash, participate in biking races, and get access to new mini-games like boxing.
The game is run on a clock. This effects a lot of things, such as class times, curfew, when it gets dark, or when you pass out from exhaustion. When a bell rings, you’ve only got a bit of time to scoot into class. If you take to long, the prefects will start to look for students who are skipping their classes, such as you if you haven’t got to class yet. Once you do get to class, you play a mini-game that changes depending on what class you’re in. The reward also changes depending on what class you’re in. You can make new items if you pass Chemistry, you become more charismatic if you pass English, and you become more romantic if you pass Art. Going to class and passing is the best way to become stronger, to unlock new talents, and to get access to new items.
Classes aren’t the only tasks you’ll get. You can run into random people in who will ask you for help, like grabbing some toilet paper from the janitor’s closet or escorting a nerd past some bullies. You can also get jobs in town which is a good way to earn some coin. You can mow grass or deliver papers, which both turn out to be pretty fun and challenging. Then of course there’s the ton of actual missions scattered throughout the game.
The game isn’t perfect, and sometimes you’ll wish it included a bit more in terms of gameplay. For example, you’re given a skateboard near the beginning, however you’re unable to perform any tricks, grind on anything, or do much of anything except just skate. And some of the fun content, like the fireworks and Kick Me signs, are hard to obtain. Though Bully includes a great variety of missions a few of them aren’t just that fun and quickly become more repetitious than innovative. The not-so-standout missions are the stealth missions, which are incredibly unforgiving.
Though there are a few complaints, they’re minor quibbles when compared to such a wide open game that contains a ton of other, better things to do. A part of being so non-linear is that you’ll run into a thing or two that you aren’t a fan of, but there is so many other things that offset the negatives.
The game is available at retail for $39.99, which is $10 cheaper than usual. This is a great value, especially considering the open ended nature of the game. The game has a great amount of variety, from story missions, side missions, tasks, jobs, and more offer you plenty of different things to try out. Once you get some jobs and missions under your belt, you also get money to spend on clothing, which adds some customizations to your character.
The game is pretty large, it’s an entire town with multiple different types of communities and neighborhoods, as well as the school. But it’s shorter than I was excepting, finishing up in about 15 to 20 hours depending how much of a completist you are. Rockstar’s previous games have been longer, and so it’s a bit surprising to finish it in a relatively short amount of time. This isn’t terrible, since it’s about the length of most games. Still, once you do finish the game there isn’t much reason to revisit it, unless you want to replay the story. You can finish up a few mini-games, jobs, tasks, and classes, but they lose some of their appeal after you finish the story.
Bully is an adventure through high school, but it’s far more than that. It’s about standing up for yourself, and what you think is right. It’s also about making a change. It just happens you make said changes by beating up a lot of people, playing pranks, and disrespecting authority. The tone of the game may seem very serious, but the entire premise is almost cartoonish in presentation. Things are a little wacky and over the top, but it works fine and the game is better because of it. With a compelling story, unique approach, and strong gameplay you can’t go wrong with Bully.
Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).